How Long Does a Person Have to Contest a Will?

By A.L. Kennedy

Most states give you a specific window of time in which to contest a will, and the clock starts ticking once a will is admitted to probate. File a will contest as soon as possible after probate begins to ensure that your will contest is not dismissed for being filed too late.

Notice of Probate

Once the will has been filed for probate and the court has appointed an executor, the executor is required to send notice of probate to certain individuals. These people include the estate's creditors, the beneficiaries listed in the will and anyone who would have received property from the estate under state law if no will existed. Any of these people, known as "interested parties," may contest the will. The time for filing a will contest begins when the person who files or plans to file receives his notice of probate.

Limitations Periods

How long a person has to contest a will is known as the "statute of limitations" or "limitations period" in most states. The amount of time varies according to state law. For instance, the state of Washington allows four months from the time the interested party receives notice of probate and the time she files a will contest. Occasionally, the limitations period may be suspended for certain court actions or other events. An attorney who practices estate law in your state can tell you how long you have to file a will contest and whether any court orders or other events have affected the deadline.

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Informal vs. Formal Probate

Several states distinguish between informal probate and formal probate, with different amounts of time to file a will contest in each one. Informal probate is used when the will is self-proving and meets all other requirements of state law. Formal probate is used when a will is not self-proving or does not have the required witness signatures. In states that distinguish between the types of probate, there is often no limit to the amount of time you have to file a will contest if the will is in informal probate. However, once you file the will contest, the will enters formal probate and the clock begins ticking for anyone else who might wish to file a will contest.


Consult an attorney before you file a will contest. An attorney can tell you how long you have to file in your particular case, and can estimate how long it will take to build a will contest case that will stand up in court. Since a will contest must be based on a flaw in the will or its execution, you will have to demonstrate that this flaw exists by collecting medical records, eyewitness testimony and similar evidence which may take some time to acquire. Finally, a will contest suspends the probate process, forcing everyone to wait longer for the assets to be distributed from the estate, and an attorney can advise you as to whether making everyone wait is in your best interests.

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What Is the Statute of Limitations for Contesting a Will in North Carolina?



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Arizona offers three types of probate proceedings: informal, formal and supervised. Supervised probate is rare and involves continuous court intervention under special circumstances. Most wills are submitted for informal probate, a shorter and usually less expensive process. Probate should be opened within two years of the testator’s death, and objections to the will should also be filed within two years, though there are numerous exceptions.

Can You Contest a Will After Probate?

The probate process officially recognizes the will as valid. It also allows the executor to follow the will's instructions under the supervision of the probate court. When probate begins, so does the window of time in which beneficiaries can contest a will. Once probate is over, the estate no longer exists and the will cannot be challenged.

Alabama's Statute of Limitations for Contesting a Will

Most states, including Alabama, have rules about who may contest a will and for how long after death someone is permitted to do so. The length of time you have to challenge a will after someone has died is sometimes referred to as the statute of limitations for contesting a will. Depending on the circumstances, you may have as few as six months or as many as 20 years after the death before the statute of limitations runs out.

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